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Young Adults Today: More Educated, More Poor

They’re also less likely to get married and more likely to live with parents compared to their predecessors.

Young Adults Today: More Educated, More Poor
[Top photo: Flickr user Eli Christman]

The U.S. Census Bureau’s new now-and-then look at adults aged 18 to 34 shows how hard it is to be one of the 73 million young adults today. While many more young people have graduated from college than in the past, more are also living in poverty or are unemployed.

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“Many of the differences between generations examined within these latest data reflect long-term demographic and societal changes,” Jonathan Vespa, a Census Bureau demographer, stated in a press release. The analysis is based on five years of socioeconomic data collected between 2009 and 2013 from the American Community Survey, an ongoing household survey conducted by the bureau, compared to data from the 1980 census.


As the bureau’s interactive mapping tool shows, more millennials live in poverty today–1 in 5–than their counterparts three decades ago in 1980, when only 1 in 7 lived below the poverty line. People in this demographic also made more in 1980 compared to today ($35,845 annually vs. $33,883, adjusted for inflation). Only about 65% of millennials are now employed, compared to 69% of those in 1980, who were largely a part of the baby boomer generation. Today, more than 30% of young adults today live with a parent, compared with only 23% three decades ago.

All of this is true even as education is increasing: 22% have a college degree compared to only 16% in 1980.


On the cultural side, demographics are changing even more dramatically. All states have higher proportions of foreign-born young adults compared to 30 years ago, and their overall percentage has more than double since 1980 (15% vs. 6%). One in 4 young adults speak a non-English language at home. As is often reported, people are also delaying or forgoing marriage in unprecedented numbers: Only 3 in 10 millennials have ever been married, down from 6 in 10 in this age group in 1980.


The Census Bureau’s data exploring tool, “Young Adults: Then and Now,” is worth checking out in more detail. You can drill down into the data by state, metro area, or county.

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About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire

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